Pubdate: Sat, 23 Nov 2013
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2013 MaineToday Media, Inc.
Author: Edward D. Murphy


Thursday's vote means a bill to legalize small amounts of marijuana 
throughout the state won't be able to be reintroduced before 2015.

Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, said her effort to put a statewide 
marijuana legalization bill before lawmakers in January's legislative 
session failed because of opposition from one-time allies.

Russell said Friday night that those who opposed her bill latched 
onto elements of a draft she circulated without giving her, or fellow 
legislators, time to consider alternatives on matters including a tax 
rate for pot and ways to clean up the records of past offenders.

On Thursday, the Legislative Council voted 5-5 on a proposal to take 
up Russell's bill as an emergency measure. A tie vote loses, meaning 
Russell's bill won't be considered in the shortened second half of 
the two-year legislative session.

Russell said she showed a draft of the bill to other groups that 
helped back Portland's marijuana legalization referendum, which 
passed earlier this month with 67 percent of the vote. But those 
groups, including the Portland Green Independent Committee, cited 
provisions in the draft bill in calling on the Legislative 
Council  made up of Democratic and Republican leaders in the 
Legislature  to reject a bid to take up Russell's bill in 2014, she said.

Russell said she's already made changes to the bill and is certain a 
legislative committee would have as well, but those groups encouraged 
the Legislative Council to put the bill on a shelf, rather than take 
it up under a provision that allows lawmakers to consider emergency 
bills in the second half of the session.

Thursday's vote means a bill to legalize small amounts of marijuana 
throughout the state won't be able to be reintroduced before 2015.

In the wake of Portland's referendum, police noted that possession of 
marijuana, except for medical use, is a violation of state law and 
they would enforce that law when necessary.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana in Maine is a civil 
violation with fines of $350 to $1,000.

David Marshall, a Portland city councilor and leading member of the 
Greens, said Russell's bill called for a 25 percent tax that would be 
too steep to diminish the black market in marijuana.

He also said the bill would create a permit system for growers that 
could easily be dominated by a few producers.

Marshall said any law legalizing marijuana statewide should also 
include a method for expunging the records of those arrested in the 
past for possessing small amounts of the drug as well as an 
alternative to arrest for those under 21 who are caught with pot.

"This has a lot to do with ending the war on marijuana," said 
Marshall, who charged that Russell wasn't willing to commit to 
compromising on some of the parts of the bill.

"I really respect Diane  we've worked on a number of things together, 
but we need to talk seriously about this and how to make it work," he 
said Friday.

Marshall said he didn't think a legislative committee in a short 
session would devote enough time to making changes to the bill that 
would allow it to attract enough support statewide to pass.

It's important to make sure a statewide legalization bill isn't 
rushed, leaving a system rife with problems and unanswered questions, he said.

"We have one shot to make a model that's successful for Maine," Marshall said.

Russell, however, said she put a blank bill with only a title before 
the Legislative Council and that she was open to negotiating the details.

Russell said she hoped that a bill introduced in the aftermath of the 
Portland vote would capitalize on the momentum created by a 
referendum that was approved by two out of three voters.

"The people of Portland were let down" by a failure to immediately 
move toward statewide legalization, she said.

"We've been building the momentum for three years and that 
conversation, for three years, has been a statewide conversation," she said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom